Over the past several years there has been an increase in the number of joint master’s degree and other postgraduate diploma initiatives designed and implemented by UNITAR in collaboration with universities and other academic institutions. From 2018 to 2022, UNITAR implemented 31 joint programmes through six of its programme units and the CIFAL Global Network of affiliated training centres.

This evaluation assessed the joint master’s degrees and postgraduate programmes conducted by UNITAR in collaboration with academic partners. It examined the relevance, coherence, effectiveness, efficiency, likelihood of impact, and likelihood of sustainability of the joint programmes. The evaluation employed a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods. Data collection and analysis tools included a document review, key informant interviews and online surveys to academic partners, participants, and UNITAR staff; focus group discussions with UNITAR staff and participants; and outcome harvesting technique. Thematic and content analysis were used to analyze qualitative data, while descriptive analysis was applied to quantitative data.

Challenges encountered by the evaluation included i) the remote nature of the evaluation, ii) difficulty in gathering comprehensive data due to recall bias, iii) lack of clarity on certification data, iv) skewed participant responses, mostly coming from programmes implemented by two programme units, and v) lack of a theory of change for the joint programmes. Mitigation strategies were implemented where possible.

Key evaluation findings and conclusions

Relevance: The joint programmes are relevant to UNITAR’s strategic objectives and meet the needs of academic partners and participants’ training needs and professional development goals. However, outreach to vulnerable groups and countries in special situations needs improvement.

Coherence: The programmes align with UNITAR’s quality standards but there is a lack of alignment between UNITAR standards with master’s quality standard benchmarks. To close this gap, the master programmes are aligned to their respective institution’s quality standards.

Synergies among UNITAR divisions are limited but there is an opportunity to maximise the utilization of existing resources.

The evaluation found the partnership between UNITAR and academic institutions advantageous, building on the value added that each one brings to the partnership.

Effectiveness: The programmes are growing, reaching more participants, and driving behaviour change for its alumni and students. However, challenges experienced by participants during or after the programmes finalization include financial barriers and external factors affecting performance.

UNITAR has been able to adapt and align to its partners’ requirements and standards, as academic partners are responsible for providing the programme accredited recognition.

The joint programmes have adequately considered human rights-based approaches and inclusion strategies by driving a gender-balanced enrolment and giving special emphasis to gender in course contents and programme design.

The current partnership models can be described as a “leverage/exchange” type of partnership, enabling both parties to better achieve their common strategic goals. The partnership has adopted a clear cost-recovery model where both partners are responsible for mobilizing funds to realize the partnership’s objectives.

Efficiency: Administrative processes can be cumbersome, but the partnership model is cost-effective. Nonetheless, the joint programmes are more costly for participants compared to other non-joint programmes delivered by UNITAR as the anticipated costs of both the academic partners and UNITAR need to covered.

There are no pre-defined and homogeneous selection partner criteria that all divisions follow, and thus universities are mostly selected on a case-by-case basis.

Academic partners strongly agreed that the joint programmes with UNITAR have enabled them to deliver activities that they could not have implemented alone.

The programmes’ design and delivery methods for online-based learning are predominantly environmentally friendly. UNITAR’s visibility and value proposition could be enhanced.

Likelihood of Impact: The joint programmes contribute to achieving UNITAR’s strategic objectives and lead to positive changes in participants’ personal and professional lives.

UNITAR’s inability to provide recognition on its own has presented challenges, limiting UNITAR’s ability to generate more impact and scale in its programmes, and create long-term plans with other academic partners. 

Likelihood of Sustainability: The knowledge and skills acquired by participants through the programmes will continue to impact their lives as well as academic partners. The joint programmes are scalable, new programmes are being developed, and partnerships are expanding.

Fee-based approaches are mostly sustainable in the long-term. However, they exclude prospective participants who cannot afford the fees. At the same time, donor funding is very much subject to strategic shifts. Therefore, a combination of fee-based and donor-funded programmes, and a robust fundraising strategy would allow the joint programmes to reach groups that are vulnerable and achieve sustainability.


Seven recommendations were issued by the evaluation:

  1. Increase alignment of the joint programmes with the Institute’s results-based programming and strategic objectives to make joint master’s degrees more strategic.
  2. Undertake/strengthen market research when selecting partners.
  3. Enhance inclusion of participants from groups made vulnerable and countries in special situations through financial support.
  4. Improve UNITAR’s visibility and programme of study value proposition through an effective communication campaign and leverage external partnerships.
  5. Explore the potential of institutional accreditation for the programmes’ portfolio offer.
  6. Establish a feedback mechanism to facilitate effective communication between universities and participants and incorporate participants’ experiences in both the programme and instructional design, including implementation.
  7. Establish a cross-division working group on joint programmes.

Lessons Learned

Four lessons also resulted from the exercise:

  • Including mid-level career participants in the joint programmes allows for sharing invaluable work-related perspectives and experiences.
  • It is key to allocate appropriate learning time.
  • Cross-thematic areas, such as climate change, gender, human rights and cross-divisional initiatives on, for example, the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, provide opportunities to collaborate between divisions.
  • Conducting admission interviews before participants are selected further encourages better attendance.

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